Family Metaphors and Moral Intuitions: How Conservatives and Liberals Narrate Their Lives

Dan P. McAdams*, Michelle Albaugh, Emily Farber, Jennifer Daniels, Regina L. Logan, Brad Olson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

197 Scopus citations


This research examines life-narrative interviews obtained from 128 highly religious and politically active adults to test differences between political conservatives and liberals on (a) implicit family metaphors (G. Lakoff, 2002) and (b) moral intuitions (J. Haidt & C. Joseph, 2004). Content analysis of 12 key scenes in life stories showed that conservatives, as predicted, tended to depict authority figures as strict enforcers of moral rules and to identify lessons in self-discipline. By contrast, liberals were more likely to identify lessons learned regarding empathy and openness, even though (contrary to prediction) they were no more likely than conservatives to describe nurturant authority figures. Analysis of extended discourse on the development of religious faith and personal morality showed that conservatives emphasized moral intuitions regarding respect for social hierarchy, allegiance to in-groups, and the purity or sanctity of the self, whereas liberals invested more significance in moral intuitions regarding harm and fairness. The results are discussed in terms of the recent upsurge of interest among psychologists in political ideology and the value of using life-narrative methods and concepts to explore how politically active adults attempt to construct meaningful lives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)978-990
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2008


  • conservatives
  • liberals
  • life stories
  • morality
  • political psychology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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